By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Apr 26, 2017 at 6:36 PM

The future of film – much like the future of this country – is diversity.

And while Hollywood’s been slow on the uptake – the percent of female directors working on the high-grossing movies actually went down last year, and the rest of the stats behind the camera weren’t much more impressive – 2017 has made that reality impossible to ignore, between "Moonlight" winning Best Picture and black-led features serving as two of the year’s biggest box office successes thus far ("Hidden Figures" and "Get Out").

Now Marcus Theatres is hoping to do its part in spreading diversity through good stories and good cinema with a brand new film festival.

On Thursday night, opening with a special VIP premiere showing of the new comedy "How to Be a Latin Lover," Marcus Theatres will debut its first CineLatino Film Festival. The festival will continue at the Marcus South Shore Cinema in Oak Creek through Sunday, April 30, screening a variety of Hispanic-directed and Hispanic-focused films running the gamut from star-studded affairs (early showings of next month’s Eva Longoria/Demian Bechir coming-of-age drama "Lowriders") to comedies ("Fachon Models"), indie dramas ("Truman") to documentaries – including the dueling sports docs "Ronaldo" and "Messi."

"You think about ‘Messi’ in particular, we like that movie not just because of the sports themes associated but the incredible odds that this young man overcome," said Rolando Rodriguez, chairman, president and CEO of Marcus Theatres. "He was a short guy! And he went up against incredible odds to become one of the best athletes in the game, so that’s inspirational."

Rodriguez – a Cuban immigrant himself who grew up in Kansas City – began circling the idea of starting a new film festival with Marcus Theatres several years ago shortly after arriving in Milwaukee. New to the city, he connected with the Hispanic community and several area Hispanic leadership groups. Between their conversations, and further dialogues with the community about its needs, plus Rodriguez’s past involvement in film festivals in Dallas, Miami, Fort Worth and more, the idea of a Hispanic-focused film event evolved into a reality.

"We started our mission with three pillars that we wanted to achieve, the first one celebrating the Hispanic culture through movies, and in particular to help education multiple generations of Hispanics out there – first and in particular second and third generation – through film, a great art form," Rodriguez explained. "The second leg that we thought about was to really educate about Hispanic culture and diversity with the larger consumer base in Milwaukee … and then finally, the third aspect was that we wanted to give back to the community."

That dialogue continued on into the selection of the all-important catalogue of movies, with Chief Marketing Officer Ann Stadler assembling a group of leaders from different communities – both Hispanic and otherwise – to help figure out the best, most essential ideas and themes for the inaugural CineLatino Film Festival.

"What we wanted was really a nice mix of key films that really represent the Hispanic culture – they probably sound familiar to just about every culture, but in Hispanic culture, they play a key role," Rodriguez said.

The result is a focus on three central themes, starting with family (with several PG-rated films, multiple features centered on the topic and Family Day on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.), fútbol and comedy – headlined by "How to Be a Latin Lover" and its star, famed Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez. An additional fourth theme is encapsulated by one particular selection, "Truman," a drama about two friends coping with one’s complicated health condition.

"We tried to cover what we felt were some of the diverse cornerstones that really represent the culture and some of the elements that we’re trying to tie back in with education and healthcare," Rodriguez noted.

CineLatino’s focus on healthcare for the community continues off the screen as well. Staying in line with that third foundational pillar, half of the net proceeds from the film festival this weekend will go toward supporting health and education efforts within the local Hispanic community, from working with Aurora Health Care with a new clinic focused on helping Hispanics with cancer to teaming up with Marquette University and UWM for potential scholarships.

Rodriguez’s goals, however, extend further than just one group of people.

"When you do a film festival, it’s not intended just for that specific group, but really for a wider and much more diverse group to have key learnings and understandings of this emerging population that’s happening in Milwaukee," he said.

His goals extend beyond just one festival as well. Rodriguez noted that they’ve already begun planning next year’s CineLatino Film Festival, with the hope of springboarding Hispanic films, actors and directors into Marcus Theatres on a more regular basis, as well as launching festivals focused on other ethnic groups whose stories and artists often struggle to make it to the big screen.

"This is a great tie-in of the communities continuing to understand diversity, continuing to understand differences and understanding that we’re all a part of the same community and work force," Rodriguez said. "So through this great art form, what a fantastic way to gather understanding."

The CineLatino Film Festival runs Thursday, April 27 through Sunday, April 30 at the Marcus South Shore Cinema in Oak Creek. For a complete list of movies, showtimes and special events, as well as purchasing tickets, visit Marcus Theatres' website

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.